In recent days, two people I know and respect, from opposite sides of the country and the political spectrum, have asked me (and answered) the same question in the same way.
The question is: Who is going to be the next president of the United States? I always answer, "I don't know," which long experience has taught me has the great advantage of being both true and certain to protect me from being very publicly wrong.
They have not been so timid, or circumspect. And their answer has been the same: Barack Obama. So have their reasons. It is a case worth considering.
It is not because Obama has been so successful as a fundraiser, although that is certainly a reflection of something, given the strengths of the other candidates: Clinton, with her lead in the national polls, her national organization, her magical spouse; Edwards, with the support of the trial lawyers of America, not to mention the advantages of having done this before; and, of course, the sometimes formidable Republicans, who can generally count on the business community to fill their coffers.
And it's certainly not because Obama has the most experience of the field; it's hard to forget that while Hillary and Edwards were in the Senate, and Rudy was at Ground Zero, Obama was in Springfield, Ill., in his first political position, as a member of the Illinois State Legislature.
It's because what he's selling, or saying, if you prefer, makes him so different from the other leading candidates.
He's not out there explaining why he switched his position on this issue and that one; why he voted that way, but would or wouldn't do it again; whether he's sorry or not, was wrong then or right now, would do it differently if he'd known something different that he didn't know or should have known or did or didn't read. He's not talking about how many inches we can move in this direction, about this bill he'll vote for as opposed to that one he didn't, or the other way around, about which compromise he'd make and which he wouldn't.
He's talking about hope and vision and change.
He's talking about a different kind of future and a different idea of politics.
He is telling people, as more than one commentator has called it, "the inconvenient truths," whether to the black community about the need to stop denigrating those who speak well for being too white or the Jewish community about the need to recognize Palestinian suffering.
He is, at a time when people on all sides are disgusted with politics as usual, with all its negativity and toughness, the least political, most positive of all the candidates on both sides.
It goes beyond ideology. It is not, as my old boss and friend Michael Dukakis once said, about competence. It is about hope.
No wonder he is the toast of the blogosphere, which despite its sometimes outsized viciousness, reflects a hunger for a more honest, genuine kind of politics.
If you believe, as I do, and many others do, that the Internet will decide this election in the way that cable news did the 2000 recount (with some help, of course, from the Supreme Court), then he is almost certainly the candidate who best understands that new world, not because he himself is a technical whiz (I'm told he isn't, not at all), but because he shares its spirit and its underlying idealism.
He is, in short, the best first date in American politics certainly since Bill Clinton, and maybe since John Kennedy, a spokesman not so much for a new generation defined by age, but a new way of approaching politics.
Of course, as I explain to my friends, he has a long way to go. He needs to get the second date down. He needs to fill in the blanks. He needs to convince people that in a dangerous world, his idealism is not misplaced; in a world full of evil, his goodness is not weakness. He needs to persuade voters that his inexperience in the realms of conflict and diplomacy do not place him at a disadvantage with the Putins of the world, with the North Koreans and the Islamic fundamentalists and the rest.
It is a tall order, but given my experience with predictions, I'd be the last to say that he can't do it.
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